A 2021 Film Journey: Day 120

I need to figure out my sleep schedule. This is coming out super late, but this is just where I am right now, I guess. On the bright side, I feel like I have a little more direction in the movies that I am going to watch over the next bit of time. In the past decade, I have done quite a bit of Criterion Blu-ray collecting, and my collection has vastly outpaced the films I have actually watched. So, for the next month or so, I am going to attempt to watch an unwatched criterion release from my shelf.

My Brilliant Career (1980, Dir. Gillian Armstrong)

My Brilliant Career (1979) directed by Gillian Armstrong • Reviews, film +  cast • Letterboxd

My Brilliant Career may be the most clear-cut example of a “women’s film” ever created, but I do not mean that in a disparaging way. Gillian Armstrong’s sophomore feature checks off many of the cliched boxes for those films. It is a period drama/ romance where a young woman rebuffs the dated ideas of what a woman’s role in the world is. In this way, the film has a significant amount in common with Armstrong’s most well-known film Little Women (1994), and much like with her take on that classic Armstrong elevates the formulaic story into something special.

What enhances these tales is Armstrong’s respect for her leads. Sybylla (Judy Davis) is a woman ahead of her time, but rather than fully endorse the anachronistic protagonist, Armstrong paints a picture as woman whose flaws enhance her complexity. Sybylla’s objection to marriage come from a place of self-actualization, but they also leave her alone and longing at times for the simplicity of the women around her. By embracing this dissonance, My Brilliant Career takes a simple formulaic story and builds an engaging and wonderful picture.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 119

Once again, today got away from me, but I am going to keep these posts coming even if they end up coming progressively later. Thankfully today I suffered less indecision paralysis. Instead of mindlessly perusing the numerous steaming services at my fingertips in hopes of finding something strikes my fancy I focused on the list of films that are leaving the Criterion Channel after tomorrow.

They Live By Night (1949, Dir. Nicholas Ray)

They Live By Night (Nicholas Ray, 1948) – Offscreen

My personal film journey more or less skipped over the film noir stage of exploration. I went from zero to Bergman in no time flat, so while I have watched close to 2,200 films since I started tracking my watches, the noir genre remains a largely untapped pool of films. While I plan on using this November – aka Noirvember – to fill in my numerous noir blind spots tonight felt like a good chance to get a head start by watching the debut feature by Nicholas Ray, They Live By Night.

They Live By Night is a classic tale of a criminal and his girl living on the run from the law. Bowie (Farley Granger) is a recently escaped convict who falls quickly in love with Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell) the niece of one of the men who helped him to escape. When an altercation with a cop brings about too much heat, Bowie convinces Keechie to take to the road with him.

While Ray would direct In A Lonely Place, a more seminal noir film, just a year later, They Live By Night is a fully enjoyable if unremarkable movie. Very little stands out about the film, but what it does, it does perfectly.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 118

Getting this one out really late tonight, and I’m not entirely sure how it became 2am but seems like I sound get started on today’s post. On one personal note, I finally got a call back from my local COVID clinic and I am getting my first shot on Sunday. Hopefully I will be able to return to theaters sometime soon. Only one new to me film today, but I did also re-watch Tangerine (2015, Dir. Sean Baker) and that continues to be one of the best films of the last 10 years. But that film is not eligible for today’s post, so instead an extremely tonally different film.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017, Dir. Oz Perkins)

Movie Review: “The Blackcoat's Daughter” | Movie Nation

A24’s horror offerings are some of the most divisive offerings in today’s cinema landscape. General audience are prone to finding the slow burns a tedious watch while critics tend to be more receptive to the films’ focus on atmosphere over plot. The Blackcoat’s Daughter may not quite have the reputation of some of A24’s bigger horror titles, but it fully embodies the studio’s horror film style.

What helps the indie studio’s horror films to be so effective is in the pacing. While the films rely on a smoldering tension build they offset this by starting more tense than standard fare. The Blackcoat’s Daughter does this by opening with a character’s dark premonition. This combined with a physically unsettling score ensure that even as the film is slow to build from these initial moments, the film remains tense throughout. When the film finally hits a gruesome climax, it offers a relief from the protracted build in addition the acute anxiety. One day the A24 horror formula may become tired, but until then it continues to offer the most expertly controlled films being released, and The Blackcoat’s Daughter deserves to the thought of with the rest of the excellent catalogue.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 117

I am feeling some difficulty in choosing movies these days. Between Oscar watching and then Festival participation, my viewing has been largely prescribed for months and I had forgotten the paralyzing feel that looking at a streaming service can give. Regardless I found an interesting one for tonight’s viewing.

The Comedy (2012, Dir. Rick Alverson)

The Comedy (2012) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

Despite what the title may indicate, The Comedy is anything but. Instead, Rick Alverson creates a modern tragedy by exploring the life of a man who uses ironic comedy as a nihilistic crutch. This comedy while may have served him well in the college as a juvenile defense against a world he was unprepared for, at 35 these mean jokes are a means to an end, and he can only feign temporary contentment.

Time Heidecker is fabulous as the lead Swanson. He manages to capture the shallow enjoyment from the character’s prank-based humor with the deep loneliness and misery that consumes him when he is on his own. Alverson and Heidecker combine to create a damming view on the nihilism that the South Park era has embraced. The life outlook that comes from using cruel humor as an expression of self and preferment deflection. While Swanson may get the occasional laugh, he is more likely to get groans from his friends or the cops called on him by strangers. He may think that he is comedian, but in reality, he is just a pathetic and lonely man.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 116

With the specter of the Oscars in the rear view, it is time to return to more normal movie viewing. It is another late night tonight, but I am taking a bit of time off work to try and get my life a little bit more under control, so finishing tonight’s film after midnight was not as big of a deal.

Cool Hand Luke (1967, Dir. Stuart Rosenberg)

Is Cool Hand Luke a True Story? Is the Movie Based on Real Life?

It has been a while since I mentioned this, but while I am framing this as movies that are new to me, what I mean is movies that I have not watched since I started meticulously cataloguing the films that I watched. All that is to say, I watched Cool Hand Luke for a class my freshman year of college, but that was almost 14 years ago now (wow I feel old), so it feels like prime time for a revisit.

The 1967 prison break film holds up well after all these years. Paul Newman is perfect as the enigmatic Luke, a man who authority and they system has let down. Likewise, George Kennedy magnificently portrays Dragline the boisterous yin to Lucks cool and collected yang. The juxtaposition between the two characters creates a wonderful dynamic that keeps the film moving at an entertaining pace. When Luke is quiet and introspective, Dragline is always there to bring the hype.

The context in which I watched the film in college was for a section on alternative Jesus figures, and Cool Hand Luke is not subtle with the imagery. This is no more obvious than with the crucifixion pose of Luke post eating 50 eggs which is iconic if blunt. The constant religious imagery does tire after some time but building to the climax in the country church makes it all worth it. The film is still one of the all-time greats.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 115

Much of my movie viewing this year had been building up to tonight’s Academy Awards. I posted my personal predications and picks earlier this afternoon and then prepared myself for the film industry’s biggest night. The three-and-a-half-hour ceremony took the place of my movie watching for the evening.

The 93rd Academy Awards

How to watch 2021 Oscars: live stream Academy Awards free and from anywhere  | TechRadar

Where to begin? I guess first and foremost, I will address the winners. They were fine to good. My Octopus Teacher winning for documentary is my biggest gripe, but all in all the Oscars went to good choices if not what I would consider the best choice. Seeing Chloé Zhao become only the second woman to win best director and be the second woman helmed film to win best picture (both were previously done by Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker) was heartwarming. My personal favorite actress Carey Mulligan once again failed to win, but I cannot begrudge the academy for choosing Frances McDormand. If all I did was read the winners the next morning, I would have little to say.

The ceremony itself was a mess. The Academy’s continued decision to go without a host after the Kevin Hart controversy reached its pinnacle this year as the ceremony was completely without guidance. While the bad jokes can get tiresome after some time, surely there must be a middle ground between too many bad jokes and a ceremony that is nothing but presentations. When there was finally a reprieve with a name the tune segment three quarters of the way through the film, it was a welcome reprieve, but one that came much too late.

And then there was the giant unforced error of the final three awards. The producers not knowing the results took a huge gamble and put the acting awards after best picture. They likely did so in the assumption that Chadwick Boseman would win posthumously, and they could end the ceremony on an uplifting moment for him. When that did not happen, the result was the most anticlimactic ending in Oscar history as Anthony Hopkins was neither present nor had a proxy to accept the award for him and the ceremony went unceremoniously to closing credits. Chloé Zhao’s accomplishments winning best picture were overshadowed by the mess that followed, and Hopkins who gave arguably the greatest performance of his life will forever be unjustifiably remembered as the man who stole Chadwick Boseman’s Oscar.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 114

After a rough week I’m already feeling a bit better from having time away from work. I only made it through one movie again today, but that was more because of catching up on writing than any movie watching motivation. Tomorrow will likewise be filled with finishing my Oscar pick and prediction post, but even if I make it through minimal movies this weekend I’ll be feeling much better regardless.

Black Sunday (1960, Dir. Mario Bava)

Thirty years of horror: Black Sunday (1960) - Quarter to Three

After enjoying last night’s viewing of Blood and Black Lace, it felt only natural to double down another Mario Bava feature. This time I chose to put on his critically acclaimed debut film Black Sunday. While I intrinsically associate Bava with the Italian giallo genre, Black Sunday instead draws upon European gothic horror reminiscent of the Universal monster movies from decades prior.

Despite being made only four years prior to last night’s feature. Black Sunday felt like a film from a much earlier era than Blood and Black Lace. The style and tone shift between the two films jarring and have impacted my opinion on the two. Black Sunday is a strong debut. Bava shows a strong aptitude for filmmaking in his take on the vampire mythos. However, for as strong a debut as the film may be, it is first and foremost mimicry of the classic horror films that preceded it. The bombastic tone and visual flare that accompany the giallo films he would later be credited as a forefather of are more striking and unique. Black Sunday is a perfectly solid gothic horror film, but that is not why I chose to watch another of Bava’s films.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 113

I am late with yesterday’s post again. As I mentioned most of the week, the fatigue has been hitting me exceptionally hard lately. I am taking some time off next week, so hopefully I will be able to recharge and get back on track with getting these out in a timelier manner. And while I yesterdays post is going up a bit late, I did watch this film yesterday, so it counts.

Blood and Black Lace (1964, Dir. Mario Bava)

Blood and Black Lace" (1964): Bava at His Best - Gruesome Magazine

As I think I mentioned earlier in the year when I watched some of Dario Argento’s films, the Giallo genre continues to be a giant blind spot of mine. Blood and Black Lace was actually my first Mario Bava film, and while I do not believe it is his most well-known film, it popped up on my Amazon Prime so I decided why not.

While I am may still be a Giallo neophyte, the trademarks of the Italian filmmaking style have become less reflexively off-putting. While the constant redubbing is awkward as always, upon getting used to it, it provides a level of cheesy charm. When combined with the oversaturated colors and gratuitous gore and hints at nudity create a wonderfully sleazy whole.

Blood and Black Lace’s setting of a fashion house worked perfectly for the style. The couture dresses and set designing popped in the film’s Technicolor wonder. Each murder used the setting and actors to create a memorable death sequence repeatedly building on the other. Even if the mystery was obvious, the red herrings we too obvious to believe, the film succeeds in spectacle alone.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 112

Oops, I fell asleep while writing this last night. Getting it up now.

Today was another rough one for me. I have been feeling exhausted all week and engaging in much of anything has been difficult. So today is going to be a quick post and I am going to hope that once the weekend hits, I will be able to catch up on my promised posts as well as write something longer in these entries.

The Juniper Tree (1990, Dir. Nietzchka Keene)

björk guðmundsdóttir: Björk - The Juniper Tree - A Dark Tale Of Witchcraft  & Mysticism (1986) - [AAC-M4A]

10 years before her Cannes winning performance in Dancer in the Dark (2000, Dir. Lars von Trier) Björk starred in The Juniper Tree in the time between singing for The Sugarcubes and beginning her solo career. In the film, a 24-year-old Björk proves that she has always embodied the otherworldly charisma that is her trademark now. Björk’s ethereal quality meshes perfectly with the grim fairy tale in her debut film appearance.

While Björk is the highlight and selling point for the Icelandic feature, Nietzchka Keene as writer, director, and editor did a fantastic job at creating an eerie fantastical environment. Her deft hand with tone shows though wonderfully creating an enchanting film to compliment her lead actress. Regrettably, The Juniper Tree was the only film she was able to complete before passing away from pancreatic cancer. Her voice was so strong in this debut feature, it would have wonderful to watch more of her films.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 110 and 111

I am sorry there was no post yesterday. I am not entirely sure what happened to me, but afterwork yesterday I just turned off for lack of a better word. I think that the pace of watching and writing from the film festival left me exhausted and the anxiety of yesterday’s jury verdict pushed me a little over the edge. Even today I was too exhausted to finish both of my outstanding SIFF reviews or watch a second film to make up for yesterday. Regardless, I am not going to beat myself up about this, I just felt like I ought to explain yesterday’s absence before jumping into today’s movie.

35 Shots of Rum (2008, Dir. Claire Denis)

35 Shots Of Rum (2008) by Claire Denis | Movie sets, Movie tv, Songs

35 Shots of Rum is an extremely intimate viewing experience. The father daughter relationship portrayed by Alex Descas and Mati Diop as Lionel and Joséphine is revelatory in its specificity. After Joséphine’s mother passed, she and her father became inseparable. The film follows the pair and their makeshift family from their apartment building as Lionel accepts that eventually and soon Joséphine will need to go out on her own.

From the minimalist score in the opening credits, the somber tone and personal storytelling are telegraphed perfectly. Claire Denis wields her tools as a director subtly yet sufficiently. Each scene builds upon the last creating a perfect crescendo of emotions through the very final shot.